Ion Luca Caragiale 1852-1912
Romanian playwright, short story writer, translator, and journalist.
Caragiale was one of Romania's preeminent playwrights and among the most important literary figures in his country's history. Though he earned his living variously as a journalist, translator, and prose writer, he is best known for plays such as O scrisoare pierduta (1884; The Lost Letter), in which he satirized the vanity and smugness of the bourgeoisie. Caragiale enjoyed a few minor successes during his lifetime, but his work was often plagued by government censorship and even legal woes, not to mention a generally tepid response from the public. By the middle of the twentieth century, however, critics had recognized him as a writer of great insight.
Caragiale came from a family well acquainted with the stage: his father, a lawyer, had once worked as an actor, and two uncles remained in that profession. Born in the tiny village of Haimanale, Caragiale attended school in the larger nearby city of Ploesti, and at age sixteen moved to Bucharest. From 1868 to 1870, he studied under his uncle Costache, an established actor, and in 1870 went to work with the other uncle as a prompter at the National Theatre. Also in that year, his father died, leaving Caragiale to take care of his mother and sister. During the next three decades, Caragiale—of whom it was said that "he made more reputation than money"—struggled to support his family, which grew in number when he married. Meanwhile Caragiale worked at a variety of jobs, including as a tutor and a journalist. His first literary successes came in 1873 with the publication of humorous stories in the journal Ghîmpele, followed by his well-received translation of a collection of poetry by Dominique-Alexandre Parodi in 1876. In 1879, when he was twenty-seven, Caragiale saw the production of his first play, O noapte furtunoasa sau numaral 9 (A Stormy Night, or Number 9), which met with minor success. Five years later, he reached the peak of his career with the enthusiastic popular and critical reaction to The Lost Letter. However, his foray into tragedy with Napasta (1890) was not well-received, and Caragiale even had to go to court over the work because a critic accused him of plagiarism. His spotty resumé as a breadwinner grew in tandem with his frustrated career as a playwright: Caragiale held another string of jobs, including one as proprietor of a beer garden, between 1881 and 1904. In the latter year, however, he received an inheritance and moved to Berlin. There he spent the remaining eight years of his life, during which time he wrote a number of short stories and sketches but no further dramatic works.
Caragiale's reputation rests chiefly on four of his eight plays, all published between 1879 and 1885. In A Stormy Night, or Number 9, the city father Dumitrache has en-trusted his right-hand man Chiriac to spy on his wife, who he is certain is having an affair. She is, as the audience discovers—only her lover is Chiriac himself. Meanwhile the wife's sister's lover goes to visit the sister, but be-cause of an upside-down nine (which looks like a six) on the house number, winds up inside Dumitrache's house instead. He nearly gets himself killed by both Dumitrache and Chiriac before the sister identifies him, and her explanation convinces Dumitrache that his wife has remained faithful to him after all. The Lost Letter, generally considered Caragiale's greatest work, also makes use of romantic intrigue with a political hue. Stepan Tipatescu, a candidate for office in a small-town election, discovers that his opponent has obtained an old love letter that he wrote to another man's wife. In vain Tipatescu attempts to persuade the opponent, Catavencu, to give up the letter. But when the government announces its support for a third candidate, Tipatescu withdraws himself from the race and puts his support behind Catavencu. In the meantime, Catavencu manages to lose the letter, which passes through the hands of the town drunk to Zoe, the woman to whom Tipatescu had originally written the letter. By the end of the play, the opponents are reconciled, and the government's candidate wins. Caragiale's other two significant works, Conul Leonida fata cu reactiunea (1880; Mr. Leonida and the Reactionaries) and D'ale Carnavalului (1885; Carnival Scenes), follow the pattern established by A Stormy Night and The Lost Letter, biting political satire in the case of the first, and romantic intrigue in the latter case.